Advent – a musical interlude

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Some of you may have spotted by now that music is a big part of my Advent preparations. Somehow it sets the soul and soothes away the general background hubbub of my commute and lets me start to focus.

I posted at the start of the #adventbookclub about our church Advent Procession and the melding of word, music and candlelight to set a prayerful mood for the start of Advent.

Until now, my normal choice of Advent music when walking around London was the rather wonderful Advent Procession with Carols from King’s. This features some truly beautiful music of perhaps the more traditional bent.

Equally good, but less well known, are some of the tracks on this new disc, Advent at Merton by (unsurprisingly) the Choir of Merton College, Oxford.

The centrepiece of the disc is seven newly commissioned Advent Antiphons – the seven great ‘O’s of Advent – by modern composers – Howard Skempton, John Tavener, Rihards Dubra, Gabriel Jackson, Cecilia McDowall, Matthew Martin and Ėriks Ešenvalds. Averaging around 2’45”, varied in style, they work as a cycle despite normally only being performed one a year.

Around the ‘O’s are a range of beautiful music from across the centuries – Byrd’s Roarte Caeli Desuper and Ecce Virgo Concipiet are well enough known, as is the Victoria Ave Maria and perhaps the Praetorius pieces. These are beautifully set off by some more modern numbers – James Macmillan’s Advent Antiphon melding together English and Latin, and Judith Weir’s setting of Drop down, ye heavens from above is intensely moving.

With many thanks to Chris Phillips for alerting me to this disc’s existence.